Cat on the run: Banned exotic African cat turns up again in Greensboro

by Jordan Green

An African wildcat named Sabre that took residents of Fisher Park by surprise in October got a ride out of Guilford County after animal control declared him illegal. Since then, the cat has been shuttled from county to county, and his owner admitted to returning him to Greensboro, where he escaped again.

Megan Morris, an employee of James Landing Veterinary Hospital, said she brought Sabre back to Greensboro when a friend who had been keeping him outside of Guilford County went away for the Thanksgiving holidays.

‘“He’d come home to stay with me for one night and I put him in the basement because I didn’t want anybody to know I had him,’” she said in a Dec. 2 interview. ‘“He pushed through a panel. I’m not even sure how he pressed it out. He came back to me the next day.’”

Rick and Margaret Luebke observed the cat for about 15 minutes in the backyard of their home in the affluent Fisher Park section of Greensboro on Nov. 26. Rick Luebke said he thought the cat weighed about 45 pounds.

‘“We called the police and left for awhile,’” he said. ‘“Later we came back and saw the owner walking back our driveway. We said, ‘Who are you?’ And she said, ‘I’ve come to get my cat.’

Morris said Sabre, a medium-sized African cat of the serval species, is now being kept at an undisclosed location in Davidson County.

As in Guilford County, exotic cats are illegal in Davidson County.

‘“Cats of that nature are not allowed in Davidson County,’” said Vince Dodge, program specialist for the county Health Department. ‘“We don’t allow them at the county fair. Permitting is required if you’re even going to travel through the county with one. The sheriff needs to know, and I do believe the Health Department needs to know.’”

Local ordinances appear to have been violated in at least two other counties, including Guilford. Around the time the Guilford County Animal Shelter released the cat to owner Megan Morris, after its capture in Fisher Park on Oct. 10, negotiations to find a place for Sabre began.

At the time the shelter’s director, Marsha Williams, told YES! Weekly: ‘“It is illegal to have an exotic animal in Guilford County. [Morris] was escorted by Animal Control to another county where it’s legal to have exotic animals. She was going to take it to the vet until she can find a home for it.’”

The animal was released on the afternoon of Oct. 13. Morris had been trying to arrange with her friend, veterinarian Sara Fletcher, for the cat to stay at Reidsville Veterinary Hospital, where Fletcher is employed. But that morning the hospital’s chief operating officer put a stop to the plan.

‘“I do not want that animal in our boarding kennel and neither do the owners of this practice,’” she wrote in an e-mail obtained by YES! Weekly.

In an Oct. 12 letter, also obtained by YES! Weekly and confirmed as authentic by Fletcher, the veterinarian states: ‘“It is my professional opinion that it is in the best interest of the animal to remain with Ms. Morris’… It would be inhumane to remove him from the only life he is familiar with, and he would not adjust well to life without his ‘person.’ He is extremely sensitive to changes in his environment; unfamiliar surroundings have the potential to make ‘Saber’ physically sick.’”

Joe Kinnarney, the president and CEO, confirmed on Dec. 2 that the cat was not allowed to come to the hospital.

‘“I just knew there were rumors that it was coming this way,’” he said. ‘“It’s an illegal animal and we could not legally receive it. When you have a non-domesticated animal you have to have a permit to have it. If it’s a dangerous animal we can’t take it.’”

Kinnarney said he consulted with the Rockingham County attorney to verify that it would be illegal to provide a home for the cat.

Instead, the cat was taken to Fletcher’s residence, Morris said. Some time later she took him back, she added.

‘“We followed them to Rockingham County,’” said Jay Blatche, supervisor of Guilford County Animal Control. ‘“We saw the animal go into the residence. I have no idea if it’s being held there. It’s out of our county and out of our jurisdiction. Sure, she might have picked up the cat and taken it back to Greensboro the next day and we’d have no idea.’”

Blatche did not respond to a follow-up query on whether he informed Rockingham County authorities that Sabre was being transferred there. When informed that Morris admitted her cat had gotten loose in Fisher Park for a second time, he ended the conversation by saying: ‘“I’m in the middle of something right now. I’m going to have to get back to you on that. We have other priorities here.’”

Dean Venable, spokesman for the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department said he wasn’t aware that anybody from Guilford County contacted his agency about the cat being dropped off there.

‘“Communication would have been a good idea,’” he said, ‘“but I don’t know if there’s any protocol for something like that.’”

Morris said after Sabre’s stay with Fletcher in Rockingham County, the cat was taken to Burlington where he received medical care.

Kinnarney, the president of the Reidsville Veterinary Hospital, said people should be concerned for their safety if they encounter a cat like Sabre on the loose.

‘“Non-domesticated animals are just that,’” he said. ‘“Unless you’re properly trained and have the proper environment it’s not appropriate. That’s why the law is created ‘— for protection. I would immediately call the authorities.’”

Morris said the months her cat has been stashed away in other counties have taken their toll.

‘“He’s been hospitalized in Burlington because he missed me,’” she said. ‘“It cost me five hundred dollars. It’s been really stressful for him and for me. I’m trying to get out of my lease so I can find a place where I can keep him. The last thing I need is animal control involved. I wish people would just leave him alone.’”

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